More from Motoring

I can’t say with certainty whether the driver of the BMW 3 Series tailgating me  on the highway was from Delhi or not (a lot of the loutish driving behaviour on  display in Goa these days is by DL and HR cars — sorry not sorry); I wasn’t really focussing on the car’s number plate, and was more concerned about the fact that  he appeared to want to drive the Beemer into my rear seat. What I can virtually  guarantee is that when I decided I’d had enough of him and floored it, his pea- sized brain would not have had the time (or ability) to comprehend what  happened next, which was me disappearing into the horizon with a ferocity  usually reserved for litre-class superbikes, accompanied by a hornets-nest soundtrack. I must confess that I laughed out loud, and then for good measure  streamed some Delhi-style epithets at the dumbfounded half-wit who was now  roughly 2 km behind me, tailgating thin air.

Abarth Punto
Its innards have been massaged to produce 240 bhp at the crank, alongside 33.6 kgm, in a car that weighs just over a tonne

Now, 3 Series owners usually don’t expect to lose roll-on acceleration runs, but  part of the reason the fellow would have been in deluxe shock was the sight of a 7-year old Fiat Punto caning his posterior so comprehensively. This car is no  ordinary 7-year old Fiat Punto, however. The scorpion badge on the gate that he  was trying to tail should have been his first clue that he had picked the wrong  fight. This is an Abarth Punto, which in stock form put out 145 bhp and 21.5 kgm  of torque via its 1.4-litre turbo-petrol, back in the day, and which would have  been enough to give him a proper scare. In keeping with the ‘no ordinary’ theme, it’s no plain-vanilla Abarth either, due to the fact that its innards have been massaged to produce 240 bhp at the crank, alongside 33.6 kgm, in a car that  weighs just over a tonne. With that kind of power-to-weight ratio, it’s no wonder  the Beemer got… well, ratio’d.

Fuel Gauge
That fuel needle drops like it’s got a rock tied to it

It’s apt that the car in question belongs to Naresh Ramadoss, one of the country’s  top physical trainers, whose job (and passion) is to extract every last ounce of performance out of the athletes who train with him. Like so many other people,  he decided to move to Goa from Chennai just after the pandemic, and he brought  his beloved Abarth with him; his other ride is a Volkswagen Passat, so he clearly  knows his cars. I spotted the Abarth parked outside Athleap – the training and  physiotherapy centre that he set up with his business partner a stone’s throw  from my house — when I’d gone there to have a dodgy shoulder fixed, and instantly asked if I could feature it in these pages; Ramadoss was happy to oblige, thankfully.

Naresh Ramadoss
Naresh Ramadoss, proud owner and one lucky man

First, a little bit about the Abarth Punto, a car I consider among the greatest to  have been launched in India. Fiat introduced it at a time when it was in the  throes of a death rattle in this country, so it was no surprise that the car didn’t  see the outside of a showroom much — but what a car it was. In 2015, there was  simply no other masssegment hatchback (or sedan) that was as sizzling hot, and  its sub-10 lakh rupee price tag was a bargain considering its specs — a feisty 1.4- litre turbo petrol, 145 bhp, 21.5 kgm, a lowered ride height, stiffened suspension  and disc brakes all-round.

Magnaflow exhaust
The Magnaflow exhaust tip offers a great soundtrack

The VW Polo GT TSI — until then the most powerful hatchback you could buy —  instantly fell behind in the power and torque stakes, but the Abarth  comprehensively lost the sales game, which was a great pity — because * what a  car *. I remember driving it soon after its launch and coming away gobsmacked  at the hooliganism that ensued, and even though it wasn’t perfect — understeer and torque steer, for starters — it was still the most fun you could have in that  price bracket and a couple above it, too. It also didn’t hurt that it looked  smashing, and even today it stands out a mile among a sea of rather tame  hatchbacks, with its classy red/white paint scheme, wicked scorpion badges,  funky alloys and prominent but tasteful Abarth decals.Abarth Badge

Ramadoss loved the car on sight and bought it in 2017, and within 18 months it  was a very different animal courtesy Rajiv Chandran, who runs Wolf Performance out of Kochi. Chandran’s outfit specialises in performance upgrades of all manner of cars and motorcycles, and Ramadoss pretty much gave him carte blanche with his Abarth, with the stated aim of making it a fire-breathing  sleeper, a proper one-off. Out went most of the car’s stock components, and in  their place came the following: a modified Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharger, an  Airtec intercooler, a BMC air filter, uprated 399cc Bosch injectors, Bilstein B8  shock absorbers, a Quaife limited-slip differential, a Bonalume short-shifter and  a Magnaflow performance exhaust tip with locally fabricated down and mid  pipes. A Stage 3 Wolf Moto tune was also carried out, and the ride height went  from an already-lowered 155mm to 125mm. Apparently there were some  concerns about a Stage 3 tune being a little too explosive for the car, but  Chandran told Ramadoss that if the engine did indeed, er, explode, he would  cover 50 per cent of the cost of buying a new one; talk about customer service. All this cost Ramadoss in the vicinity of ` 5 lakh, but it was the best money he’s ever spent, he says.

Engine Bay
Innocuous engine bay is stuffed with go-faster bits

This becomes apparent pretty quickly when you get into the car and fire it up; the Abarth settles into an ominous rumble, giving you the first clue that it means  business. This business has three levels, incidentally — maps 1 to 3. To engage  each one, you press the loud pedal once, twice and three times respectively  before start up, and the rev counter moves to 1, 2 and 3 accordingly. Map 1 gives  you access to 180 bhp and requires regular petrol; map 2 pushes that to 210 bhp  and needs 97 octane; map 3 is all-bets-are-off territory, unleashing the full 240  bhp and requiring a tankful of 99 octane (no prizes will be provided to those  correctly guessing which map Ramadoss regularly uses).

These gauges do offer some clues about the car’s nature

The car has a stock cabin, except for some brushed steel pedals and the  boost/fuel-air gauges, which means that it’s typically Fiat — it does the job quite  well, but it’s not exactly the Four Seasons. In any case, this car isn’t meant to  cosset you — its main aim in life is to grab you by the neck and slap some  indecency into you. The stock shifter is back in the car due to some issues with the short-shifter, and Ramadoss tells me that the Bonalume unit absolutely  transformed the shifting experience; I’d have to make do with Fiat’s rather tall  and mildly soggy shifter, unfortunately. Still, it’s a small price to pay in the larger  scheme of things.

Nothing about the (stock) interior gives you a clue about the sheer violence this car can unleash on demand

Said scheme consists mainly of outright hilarity, by the way. At anything below 3,000 rpm, the Abarth is surprisingly docile, and there’s absolutely no jerkiness to the process of ambling around at low speed, as you would do in traffic; you could  easily use the car as a daily runner, although you’d have to make rather more  visits to the fuel station than with a ‘regular’ hatchback. I actually spent my first 10-odd minutes with the car pottering around my neighbourhood, in order to see how user-friendly it was, and it didn’t disappoint — at 50 kph in 5th, it was a  happy camper. The point, however, was to see if it was a crazed camper, so I pointed its nose towards NH66 early one morning, found an empty stretch,  lowered the windows and floored it. Several things happened after this.

First off, a huge grin instantly appeared on my face, because the noise the car produced was just (chef’s kiss) — a low burble that went from measured to  manic in a split second, filling the entire cabin and reverberating off the doors. I was pushed well back into my seat as the Abarth showed me what arm-straightening acceleration is all about, blazing off from a rolling start like it had been fired from a Bofors gun. As soon as the revs hit 3,000, the big turbo kicked in with a sound like whips being lashed, and the front wheels begged for mercy as they spun furiously( if this car didn’t have a LSD, it would simply spin its wheels and go in circles all day). They caught the road’s surface soon enough, and with that it was one endless, scenery-blurring rush through to the redline, with  the speedo indicating — actually, never mind what the speedo indicated — and  the exhaust belching the most glorious noises.

Pure, analogue, visceral driving experiences like this are increasingly rare in a world where it’s difficult to tell an iPad from an automobile

With the Bilsteins fitted, the car had been incredibly agile; Ramadoss mentioned  that taking corners at 170 kph was a walk in the park (I had the good sense not to ask him where he did this). It was also very low, prone to scraping its belly  everywhere and rather uncomfortable to sit in, and his family literally refused to get in the car any more, so he took the Bilsteins off and went back to the stock  suspension. Even with this setup, the Abarth was a hoot to fling around corners,  and the 205-section tyres provided plenty of reassuring grip, with the all-round disc brakes being absolutely essential to prevent sudden damage to any hapless lamp-posts. The steering unit talked back constantly, too, providing inch-perfect  information about where the wheels were and what they were doing.

It was impossible not to keep repeating the above scenarios as many times as I  could, even though the fuel gauge was dropping at an alarming rate. Pure,  analogue, visceral driving experiences like this are increasingly rare in a world where it’s becoming difficult to tell an iPad from an automobile, and I was  determined to milk these moments for all they were worth. When I finally  worked up the willpower to cease all the tomfoolery and take the car back to  Ramadoss, the first thing I did was to thank him profusely for making my day better — and the second was to ask if I could borrow the car again, at some point; he smiled, in the way petrolheads do when they recognise a kindred soul, and  said ‘Any time’. Now to go and find that BMW again…